Few things are as controversial as menu labels, yet by the end of this year, New Yorkers will see a new, beneficial label at many of the food joints around town. On September 9, the New York City Board of Health decided to require all chain restaurants to post a new warning label next to high sodium foods. In light of ever-increasing rates of high blood pressure and obesity, the tiny reminder will hopefully bring about some positive changes for consumers.
Starting December 1, 2015, chain restaurants including T.G.I. Fridays, California Pizza Kitchen, Subway, Chipotle and more will be required to label their menu items that exceed the FDA’s recommendations for daily sodium intake. According to the FDA, we’re only supposed to consume 2,300 mg of sodium, or roughly a teaspoon of salt, each day. Dishes that serve up more than that will be labeled with a small salt shaker in a little black triangle.
“This really represents, to me, the next step in allowing usable information for our community to make better health decisions,” member of the Board of Health Dr. Deepthiman K. Gowda told US News & World Report.
It’s refreshing to see that all chain restaurants will be held to the labeling requirements. After all, we tend to consume more sodium at full-service restaurants than at fast-food locations, according to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition this year. That’s right: According to the study, subjects consumed roughly 297 mg more sodium at fast-food restaurants and about 415 mg more when dining at full-service restaurants than when they ate at home.
The new menu regulation was motivated by the desire to better educate New Yorkers on the food they eat. According to the Notice of Intention for the new law, authored by Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Prevention and Primary Care, Dr. Sonia Angell, MD, MPH, New Yorkers’ lack of awareness regarding the FDA’s sodium level recommendations prompted the move toward required labeling. The Board of Health learned that many people didn’t fully understand the amount of sodium regularly consumed when dining out.
The problem, according to the Board of Health, is that it’s difficult for consumers to judge which menu choices are healthiest in terms of sodium. The report cited an example from a real restaurant that sells, among other items, a smokehouse turkey panini and a roasted turkey and avocado BLT sandwich. The panini contained 2590 mg of sodium while the bacon-laden sandwich — the item that was often perceived as being unhealthy — only contains 960 mgs of sodium.
Labeling is definitely a step in the right direction. While the American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium each day — a level that’s even below the amount recommended by the FDA — raising awareness about sodium content will hopefully provide motivation for New Yorkers to take more responsibility for their food choices. This doesn’t mean that consumers should avoid salt altogether. As we’ve reported before, salt is necessary for our overall health. We just have to be aware of the kind of salt we consume. Unlike the salt and sodium in most restaurant food, unprocessed salt is quite healthy and may even help boost our immune system.
Overall, we’re pleased to see the new label requirements coming from the Board of Health. “This doesn’t change the food but provides people with the information they need to make healthy food selections,” said Dr. Mary Bassett, City Health Commissioner. Anything that gives consumers more information about the food they’re eating is a good thing as far as we’re concerned.
Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.